Who Is Phil Hill?

Illustration for article titled Who Is Phil Hill?

One of the most vivid memories I have of this year's Pebble Beach Concours D'Elegance—other than 14 straight hours straddling an Italian paint shaker, arguing with a 17 Mile Drive security goon about press passes, riding in Travis Okulski's new-to-him Mazda Eunos Cosmo rocketship (that's us at Target, when he needed to buy some air mattresses, which he later returned) and developing a day of rambunctious sneezing loud enough to disrupt flight patterns at SFO, thereby missing a chance to spill 50-year Balvenie scotch onto Dario Franchitti's lap—was attending a reception of the Automotive Fine Arts Society, in a white elephant of a tent right on the Pebble Beach golf course, where I was there to interview the man who had painted the covers of Concours program brochures since time eternal. A sea of Chablis and silver hair, of proper landed gentry, of a place that seemed to say, "you don't belong here, and you know it." I looked at my subject's paintings. An elderly man walked over, his Concours Judge pins glimmering under the spotlights; he seemed to know everyone around him. "Hey, you're in fine form again this year," he said. He pointed at a painting of a be-goggled driver, a side profile. "You got Phil Hill over here." He turned to me. "Do you know who Phil Hill is?"


When you're caught off-guard like that, you try to say whatever comes to your mind. "Course I do," I said, and I did. I just couldn't register the stats in my mind. "Won Le Mans..."

"...Le Mans winner 1958, 1961, 1962. First American to win a Grand Prix. Won the 1961 F1 season." He puffed out his chest with pride as he rattled off these facts.


"Oh yeah? Are young people not supposed to know that?"

Now it was his turn to stammer. "Uh, I, well, didn't mean that at all. But I'm just glad you did!"


He's right, you know. Young people aren't supposed to know who Phil Hill is, or Chaparral (with which he ended his career) or Pebble Beach is, at all. There's a certain undercurrent of punk, if you will, that I love seeing at Pebble every year—witness Davey G. Johnson's exploits at the formation of Jalopnik, or the Concours d'Lemons of which Okulski, Torchinsky and I bear scars. I love the Concours d'Elegance, but it takes on a ludicrous tone when they play Bach over the loudspeakers. It's like walking into an Eighties Rodney Dangerfield movie, the one where the bad guy with the Mercedes-Benz 500SEC gets pushed into a swimming pool and Michelle Pfeiffer slaps him before running off with Dangerfield himself. (I assume that's every Rodney Dangerfield movie. I've only seen Back To School.) And more importantly, it all raises questions about the future: the future of car collecting, the future of young auto enthusiasts, where these fabulous Scaglietti Ferraris will all go, and whether we young people are too preoccupied with gawking at our phones in the first place. Aren't we? Are we still here and present and accounted for?

So. I hope that serves as an introduction, of sorts: Who Is Phil Hill? is everything that goes on in my mind. About cars, about classic cars, about where that whole thing is headed. About the "fact" that millennials don't drive. (I turn 27 in two weeks.) It's about the things we love about cars, the things that are deathly wrong about them, the misnomers and facts and everything in between. It's about whatever my brain spits out.


Of course, like staircase wit, I should've raised a question of my own. "Phil Hill? I know him. Was he in The Fast and The Furious?"


Image of Phil Hill and Dan Gurney via Flickr

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